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The Lead with Jake Tapper

U.S Military Racing To Meet August 31st Deadline; White House Says No Mass Firings Over Afghanistan; U.S FDA Approves Pfizer BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine; Texas Town Shut Down By COVID; Nine Moderate Dems Threaten Biden $3.5T Budget Plan; Poll: Biden Job Approval Rating Slips Amid Chaotic Afghanistan Withdrawal; Texas House GOP Set To Pass Sweeping Voting Bill After Dems Failed To Block It. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired August 23, 2021 - 17:00   ET




SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Biden has said troops would remain until all Americans are out. But the Taliban has told CNN that U.S. troops would have to leave by August 31st and no extensions. American troops are already feeling the strain of refusing entry to so many families at the airport gates.

PINKIE FISCHER, DIVISION CHAPLAIN, 82ND AIRBORNE: A lot of these paratroopers are married. And I know while they're standing there nothing else to do but doing their job, they're probably thinking about what it would be like --

KILEY (on camera): Those are my kids.

FISCHER: Exactly, what would it be like?

KILEY (voice-over): Here though, safety and freedom comes with a white wristband. It's a plane ticket given out already to 38,000, but the window to more flights to freedom is fast closing.


KILEY (on camera): Jake, one of the striking things about all of this is the fact that the Americans are having to use what they're calling alternative routes. These remain secret, military secrets, but we have seen a large amount of helicopter activity.

And without giving the game away, you can imagine what the other kind of routes are being used and the sorts of people that are going out and picking people up, trying to get around this log jam outside the airport. Jake?

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Sam, we know Afghans who applied for the Special Immigrant Visas, the SIVs, to the U.S. We're told to stay away from Kabul's airport today because the U.S. is prioritizing evacuations for American citizens and legal permanent residents. Do we know how long that might be the policy for SIVs to stay away? KILEY: No, we don't know, Jake. What we do know is that the process

inside the airport is now much better than it was several days ago and there were nearly 20,000 people stuck here and hardly any aircraft took off. There is a -- word was here during an eight-hour period and (inaudible) see any taking off.

Now, we're seeing them going every minutes or so. They are very, very frequent takeoffs. That means they can be processed more quickly. So there is a hope that perhaps the gates will be opened up. But that means that they're in danger of running into the withdrawal time line and this 31st of August deadline. Jake?

TAPPER: Well, let's talk about that because the Taliban have warned of consequences if U.S. troops stay in Afghanistan past that August 31st deadline. Do we know what that could look like? And of course the U.S. is a much stronger military power than the Taliban. Who are they to be making threats?

KILEY: Well, that is true. But it is the United States that are withdrawing in the face of a Taliban victory. So, the Taliban certainly feel that they have a robust position. There is also many thousands of people that the danger is that they could swarm onto the airfield. So, really, both sides need to cooperate over this.

Certainly, the view of the British ambassador here in briefing of 10 Downing Street has been that it would be very dangerous to extend the deadline beyond what's already been agreed with the Taliban because it would be squandering good will.

But good will is something that the Taliban very much need if they're going to prove their moderation based on their previous rather medieval rule here and their desire to become part of the international community in all the trade and aid that would flow from that. So it's not inconceivable, but it is something that will have be negotiated, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Sam Kiley in Kabul, Afghanistan. Thank you and stay safe.

The White House is facing increasing pressure both at home and abroad to extend that deadline for the withdrawal from Afghanistan after a nightmare week in Kabul followed by the evacuation of 11,000 Americans and Afghans by the U.S. CNN's Kaitlan Collins reports that President Biden is trying to convince the world that he's got things under control.


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As the evacuation from Afghanistan grows more chaotic, President Biden is under pressure to extend the deadline for the U.S. exit.

JAKE SULLIVAN, NATIONA: SECURITY ADVISER: Ultimately, it will be the president's decision how this proceeds, no one else's.

COLLINS (voice-over): Biden is considering extending the August 31st deadline, but a Taliban spokesman is pushing back, saying the U.S. must adhere to removing troops by August 31st, otherwise, it will be a clear violation. Biden spoke with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson today and tomorrow he'll meet virtually with leaders of G7 nations who want that deadline extended.

SULLIVAN: All I'm going to say is that the president continues to consult with the prime minister and our other allies on how this evacuation should proceed from here and he'll ultimately make the determination.

COLINS (voice-over): Officials still haven't said exactly how many Americans are left in Afghanistan.

JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETAY: I think I'm just going to leave it at several thousand right now, Dave.

COLINS (voice-over): National security adviser Jake Sullivan says he's confident about evacuating all of them by the end of the month.

SULLIVAN: We believe that we have time between now and the 31st to get out any American who wants to get out.

COLINS (voice-over): The president is pledging that once screened and vetted in other countries, all Afghan allies will have a home in the U.S.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Because that's who we are. That's what America is.


COLINS (voice-over): But Special Immigrant Visa applicants are currently being told not to go to the Kabul airport as the military prioritizes the evacuation of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents.

SULLIVAN: We are working to get out as many Afghan allies as we possibly can.

COLINS (voice-over): In a 24-hour period, the U.S. military evacuated nearly 11,000 people out of Kabul. The first time the Pentagon has met and exceeded its initial goal to evacuate up to 9,000 daily. Biden was briefed on Afghanistan by his national security team this morning and will be every day this week.

A new CBS poll found that most Americans still support the decision to withdraw from Afghanistan, but not like this. Forty-four percent of those surveyed believe the U.S.-led drawdown has gone "very badly."

JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The test of competence and of leadership is not about how you operate on your best day. It's about how you operate when the chips are down.


COLINS (on camera): And, Jake, one question that critics have raised in the wake of this drawdown going so poorly at the beginning is whether or not anyone who works in the administration, whether national security teams, intelligence, or what not will lose their jobs over this. That's actually a question that a reporter posed to Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser, when he was in the briefing room earlier.

He said he has not heard President Biden say that regarding anyone's future position in this administration. But right now he is focused on the evacuations underway. We should note that we were told last week the White House currently does not expect any firings over this. Of course, that is right now it's hard to say of course what will happen in the future.

TAPPER: And, Kaitlan, another interesting moment from that briefing. Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary pushed back when a reporter from Fox asked about Americans being "stranded" in Afghanistan. Take a listen to her response.


PSAKI: I think it's irresponsible to say Americans are stranded. They are not. We are committed to bringing Americans who want to come home, home. We are in touch with them via phone, via text, via e-mail, via any way that we can possibly reach Americans to get them home if they want to return home.

I'm just calling you out for saying that we are stranding Americans in Afghanistan when I said -- when we have been very clear that we are not leaving Americans who want to return home. We are going to bring them home.


TAPPER: To be clear, the White House, the National Security Council, the State Department, the Pentagon, all the troops over there, they are working day and night to get Americans out and we shouldn't pretend that they aren't.

But that said, there are also no doubt Americans in Afghanistan, I know for a fact, who feel as though they have been stranded, at least as of right now. So, I don't understand the point she's making, just that they ultimately will not be stranded?

COLLINS: Yes. That seemed to be the argument when she was asked to clarify if she was saying that none are stranded right now, which is what Jake Sullivan said earlier, that by the 31st they believe they will have all the Americans who want to come home back home.

But Jake, I think really to look at the point of this question on whether or not this is the case is, what the Pentagon has said they've been doing and they said there have been two instances where troops have had to leave the airport in Kabul, something that last week they said was not in their capability at the time to go and get Americans and bring them to the airport because they were unable to bring them there either because the trip was so dangerous or they did not feel comfortable making that trip and leaving their house given there is Taliban checkpoints set up all over the place outside the airport. And that was to get 350 Americans, Jake.

And of course, one of the big question is we don't have at the end of the day, is how many Americans are left there and how many they still have to get out.

TAPPER: All right, Kaitlan Collins, thanks so much. Joining us now to discuss, Aisha Wahab. She's part of the city council in Hayward, California, which made her the first Afghan-American woman ever elected to political office in the United States. She's a Democrat. Aisha, thanks so much for joining us.

Let me ask you, what are your conversations been like? What have they been like with your friends, and if you have family still in Afghanistan, are they going to try to evacuate? How are they?

AISHA WAHAB, FIRST AFGHAN-AMERICAN WOMAN ELECTED IN OFFICE IN THE U.S.: Well, every single person is trying to leave the country. This is not only the American allies but also everyday Afghans. They do not want a regime where the Taliban are in power, and the old 1990s Taliban specifically.

The people that I've talked to specifically in Afghanistan via social media have stated that everything was shut down for roughly nine days, grocery stores, banks. They cannot access their funds. They cannot get funds, leaving people hungry, leaving people desperate.

People are actually fleeing the capital and going back to their region of origin or disappearing and trying to pay human traffickers to get them out of the country, either through one of their neighboring countries.

So, there are a lot of Taliban soldiers in particular that are going from home to home to home in search of folks in particular. People are hiding, their lights are off. They're not leaving their homes. Their windows are painted black and they're in fear for their life. So, that's kind of the makeup of what's happening in Afghanistan today.


TAPPER: You were part of a rally in Hayward, California, last week. What are other members of the Afghan-American community telling you about what's going on right now?

WAHAB: The Afghan-American community here, the diaspora, which is one of the largest in the nation, specifically are looking to have their loved ones be able to come to the United States. If not loved ones, they want us to honor the promise to these individuals that supported American troops and American forces, and allow them to come the United States with an expedited fashion.

People's visas are being held up. The State Department is not answering a lot of the nonprofits that are requesting, you know, information, what is going on, a status update. Even our Congress members are feeling the same way with their staff as well.

So, it's been difficult and the situation ends up being there's a lot of pressure because people want to leave immediately. We don't know what after August 31st is going to really look like for these people in Afghanistan.

TAPPER: Obviously, and we shouldn't have to underline this, but I think in American politics we do. The Taliban are the bad guys here. That's who is the evil force. But there's a lot of political finger- pointing going on. And one of the signs at a rally you attended last week said, "Afghan blood is on your hands, Joe," not your signs but a sign at the rally, presumably referring to President Joe Biden.

Do you agree with that sentiment as a Democrat who is no doubt loyal to President Biden, how do you feel about this when you hear President Biden blamed?

WAHAB: You know, it's quite frustrating to see what's happening in the United States today. This is not a left or right issue. The extremism is not, you know, conducive to what we're trying to do at this moment in time. We can point fingers all we want. We can debate whether we should've walked away in 2011 when bin laden was killed in Pakistan or later or earlier, you know, that's not the point.

We need to come together as Americans and understand what the objective is right now in this moment, which is basically we need to focus on how we can support our allies and how we can heavily lean into humanitarian aid and diplomacy now that Biden -- President Biden has made the difficult decision to withdraw.

These are reasonable critiques that we are hearing, but this withdrawal was negotiated with the previous president and President Biden is taking responsibility, and everyone is counting on his leadership to fix a bad deal. Our international reputation is at stake. But, more importantly, lives are at stake. Men, women, and children, including babies --


WAHAB: -- will be starving, will be dying, and that's what, you know, these people stand for, is that they actually stand for freedom and they are going to be dying for it.

TAPPER: Aisha Wahab, thank you so much, and obviously stay in touch with us about anything we can do to help bring attention to individual stories of people who need to be rescued.

WAHAB: I appreciate it. Thank you.

TAPPER: It's official. Breaking today, the FDA has given full approval to one of the COVID vaccines. Is that enough to convince potentially millions of holdouts?

Plus, one town has so many COVID cases, it's essentially shut down. We'll take you there, ahead.


[17:15:00] TAPPER: In our "Health Lead," a new wave of businesses, universities, and other large organizations may start implementing vaccine mandates now that the Pfizer vaccine has full FDA approval. That's according to Dr. Anthony Fauci who says as many as 20 to 30 percent of unvaccinated Americans may now be inclined to get the shot. CNN's Kristen Holmes joins us now live. Kristen, what have you seen so far when it comes to the mandating of vaccines?

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we really are starting to see that sort of cascade effect that officials had hoped for. And remember, this was the big goal and the big hope when you look at full approval. You had some people thinking it would move the dial on vaccine hesitancy, but you also hear from a lot of health official who's say we're just not sure how far it's going to move the dial.

But what we did hear from experts, health experts, as well as legal experts was that this full approval would give the cover to these organizations, universities that they needed to actually impose a vaccine mandate. And that's what we're starting to see as early today.

We heard almost immediately after full approval from the mayor of New York City who said that there would be a COVID-19 mandate for all members of the Department of Education. No test-out option. This makes them the largest school district to do so, and that's a huge number of people.

And, in fact, afterwards de Blasio said that he wasn't concerned about teachers resigning over this, which just gives you kind of a sense of the confidence that this has given him to move forward with this mandate. We also heard from the Pentagon. They had talked about doing a vaccine mandate as soon as it was fully approved.

Kirby today saying, we are moving up that timeline. We are going to vaccinate more than a million men in -- servicemen and women. We also heard from the United Food and Commercial Workers Union. Now, this (inaudible) just heard from moments ago and there's a reason I'm bringing this up.

They said that they were going to work with their employers if those employees -- employers wanted to implement a vaccine mandate. That's a big deal because we know that there are a lot of unions out there who have been a little bit hesitant about actually issuing these vaccine mandates.

They've been hearing from their members who say we don't want that. So if we start to see a movement among unions getting their members actually vaccinated, enforcing these vaccine mandates that is thousands and thousands, if not millions of people.

Now, there are quite a few people that we are watching closely here who have said that they are interested in a vaccine mandate once it was fully approved who have not said anything today.

[17:19:59] That includes Alaska Airlines, Louisiana Governor Bel Edwards on state employees as well as several universities including LSU. So we're watching that closely to see if they actually follow through with those vaccine mandates.

TAPPER: All right. Kristen Holmes, thanks so much. Let's discuss this all with CNN's chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta, as well as Dr. Ashish Jha, the dean of Brown University School of Public Health. Thanks to both of you for joining.

Sanjay, right now about a third of the eligible population in the U.S., 82 million people still have not been vaccinated. Do you think this is going to move the needle in a significant way?

SANJAY GUPTA, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I think it probably will move the needle. Let me show you sort of what the overall impact might be on certain groups. First of all, people who were concerned that maybe this just felt too new, the vaccine. They wanted a full approval. If you look at some of the surveys, they say maybe around 20 percent of people would fall under that category. So, maybe those people would be more likely to get the vaccine now.

You'll also going to see Pfizer starting to advertise and other companies will, too, if they get approval. And there's probably significant marketing campaigns, so basically saying here's what you're life looks on like on vaccines and here's what it looks like without vaccines. So that may move the needle.

But the biggest one is probably that bottom category, which is what Kristen was just talking about, giving that cover now to major organizations to do these mandates. And I think they all would probably make the biggest difference.

Let me just show you quickly, Jake, who the unvaccinated are in the country, sort of where things stand by looking at this pie chart. We know, as you mentioned, about a quarter, 80 million people still unvaccinated. We know 51 percent of the country fully vaccinated, 9 percent partially vaccinated.

It's that red in the upper left corner that are the eligible unvaccinated that we're talking about here. So, that's where, you know, obviously this move today would have the greatest impact.

One thing I do want to point out, Jake, and this is a problem that people have been citing to me quite a bit, is that this is my proof of vaccination right here. It's a card. That's what I have. It's hand- written. That's basically all it is.

There is no federal database for this -- this system. States are required to do it but the states aren't talking to one another ensuring vaccination status. That's probably going to have to be part of this discussion as well if we're going to mandate vaccines and require proof of vaccination.

TAPPER: And Dr. Jha, an FDA official said the organization completed its full approval of the Pfizer vaccine in about 40 percent of the time it would normally take. Already, this is being used on a certain right-wing channel to accuse the FDA of rushing the process. How do you look at the time line?

ASHISH JHA, DEAN, BROWN UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH: Yes. So, Jake, first of all, thanks for having me back. The time line I thought, if anything, went a little longer than I was hoping but certainly was not rushed. Yes, it's true that it took 40 percent of the time, but look, we're in a global pandemic and usually they are looking at lots of different drugs at the same time.

This was obviously given priority status. And they had six months before the full application was even filed by Pfizer to do a lot of the back work. So, I think the FDA took its time, it did a careful review. I wish they had moved a little faster, but I'm really, really happy to see this full approval.

TAPPER: And on our screen you'll see -- we brought back the number of deaths because, Sanjay, we're back to more than 1,000 Americans dying every day, almost all of them unvaccinated. And that's the highest this number has been in five months. Do you think that this news is going to bring that number down?

GUPTA: Well, I mean, the thing about vaccines, Jake, is that they take a while to work. I mean, I think its great news, don't get me wrong but, you know, there are some strategies as we've talked about in the past like masking which worked much more quickly. And masking, by the way, should still be part of this conversation because we still have high virus transmission in most of the country.

You get the vaccine, you got to wait a few weeks, you get another shot, and then it takes a couple of weeks after that. So really, you know, five, six weeks before you see the impact of people start to getting vaccinated today because of the approval. So, it will have an impact but just not immediately.

TAPPER: Dr. Jha, there are many Americans who said that they didn't want to get the vaccine until it had full FDA approval as opposed to emergency use. But it's interesting, if you get hospitalized for COVID, you're often given treatment that doesn't have full FDA approval and, you know, presumably all those skeptics took those therapeutics. How do you explain the contradiction?

JHA: Yes. You know, Jake, I mean, there's been so much misinformation targeted towards these folks that I'm very sympathetic to what is clearly not kind of consistent thinking on this. The key point for people to understand is that there is so much good evidence about these vaccines. These vaccines were every bit as safe and effective yesterday as they are today after the approval.


The approval is the gold standard. I hope it moves people to get off that fence, but it's absolutely true. In a pandemic, we're often using things under emergency use. Don't worry about the designation. Focus on the underlying data. And the data on the vaccines is really remarkably good. TAPPER: Dr. Ashish Jha and Dr. Sanjay Gupta, thank you so much.

Appreciate it.

One small town ravaged by COVID. We'll have a look there at the places where schools -- the place where schools are shut down and the local ICU is full. Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our "Health Lead," a small Texas oil town has become a microcosm of what may happen statewide or anywhere when this new wave of coronavirus gets out of control, schools are closed, the local hospital has no ICU care available and people are, of course, dying. CNN's Rosa Flores has been there and joins us now live from Houston. Tell us about this town, Rosa. Do they know how this outbreak started?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, they don't. Iraan is -- has a population of about 1,200. And according to the hospital CEO there, earlier this month during the two-week period, they tested 119 people and 50 tested positive, that's a 42 percent positivity rate and about this time was when school started. And according to the superintendent, 23 percent of staff and 16 percent of students either tested positive or they were exposed to someone.

So Jake, the superintendent says she had to shut down the school because she didn't have enough teachers to teach class. Jake?

TAPPER: And Rosa, you were especially touched by the way townspeople seem to be coming together to support their neighbors who are sick. Tell us about that.

FLORES: No, I interviewed a woman, her name is Vicky Zapata. She works for the city so she knows everybody. She shared the story of Sammy Balderas (ph). Now he is a husband, a father of a nine-year-old and he got COVID, he needed ICU care. As you mentioned, there was no ICU care at this town. The rural hospital doesn't offer it. And so Vicky Zapata set up a community prayer, brought everybody together, they're in their cars to be COVID safe. Take a listen.


VICKY ZAPATA, FRIEND OF COVID-19 VICTIM: It was a cry of mercy to God, for Him to have mercy on our town. Like I said, we had had COVID before but never to this magnitude.


FLORES: Now during that live stream, you can hear the passion in her voice that she is asking God to help heal her town. Now eventually, there was an ICU bed that opened up for Sammy (ph). It was about 100 miles away in San Angelo. But Jake, he died just five days after and just hours after our interview with that woman that you just heard.

And from just being in this town, one of the things that became very clear is when everybody gets infected, when people start dying, the division, the differences, those fade away. They don't matter anymore. Jake?

TAPPER: All right, Rosa Flores, thank you so much.

The Democratic agenda facing from spacing some roadblocks from fellow Democrats. Coming up next, the tough new warning from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our politics lead, a showdown between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and a group of nine Moderate Democrats insisting they can, as they write in the Washington Post, walk and chew gum. At the same time, the Moderates are demanding that the House first vote on the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure deal this week before the House goes on to consider a $3.5 trillion budget plan that no Republicans support. Now Pelosi needs their votes. But she wants to pass the budget plan first, which is setting the scene for lots of walking and gum chewing.

CNN's Jessica Dean is on Capitol Hill for us. Jessica, right now House Democrats are set to hold an emergency caucus meeting, what are you learning?

JESSICA DEAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we know right now, the Democratic leadership has been in a closed door meeting, Jake, since about 5:00. And we know that the caucus will be coming together. On paper, it is sold as a coming together to talk about the Build Back Better agenda for children, of course, Biden's agenda.

But we know behind the scenes, and also it is spilling out into the public very much so that there is this push and pull between the Moderates, those nine Moderates that want to hold this up, and then also the Progressives who have said, look, we're not voting on an infrastructure package until we do the budget first.

And Nancy Pelosi has a three-vote margin that she is dealing with right now. So it is quite a tightrope to get everybody on the same page and find the way forward. We did see Speaker Pelosi just a few minutes ago, she was going to open the House floor for tonight's votes that will be coming up here in just a little bit. She said she had not spoken to many of the nine Moderates because they had not connected yet. She also said that she did think that the budget that she maintains that she wants to move forward with her plan, which is to vote on the budget first and then get to infrastructure.

And that has been her plan all along, Jake. We know that Nancy Pelosi typically what she goes for is what she get, so it would be quite rare to see anything changed. But again, we are watching to see exactly what's going to come out of this House Democratic Caucus meeting. Will it be an airing of grievances? Will they find a way forward? That's what we're seeking to learn as they gather right now.

TAPPER: Jessica, what does the Biden administration have to say?

DEAN: Well, right now they are being very publicly supportive of Speaker Pelosi's path forward, Jake. We heard from Jen Psaki earlier today and she said that the President is supportive of doing the budget first, and then also doing that -- doing the budget first and then going and doing the infrastructure bill.

That's what they are supportive of Psaki saying that she believes and the President believes he will ultimately be signing both of these bills into law, that this is just how Washington works. It's how Capitol Hill works.

But Jake, the fact remains is that there's a real schism right now that they're going to have to figure out to find their way forward, again, which is that three-vote margin. Pelosi really has to get everybody to come together and move forward to get the Biden agenda through Congress. Jake?

TAPPER: All right, Jessica, thanks so much. Really appreciate it.

Let's discuss this and we probably need to explain a little bit more because probably a lot of people out there think who cares which one comes first, but it has to do with whether or not you can get the Republican support to pass the infrastructure bill or not. And the Progressives also want a commitment to this bigger spending bill.

Mona, let me start with you. So this group of nine Moderate Democrats released this op-ed this weekend and says in part, "Time kills deals. This is an old business saying and the essence of why we're pushing to get the bipartisan infrastructure bill through Congress and immediately to President Biden's desk. Let's take the win and pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill". Do you think they'd really vote against the budget bill, though?


MONA CHAREN, POLICY EDITOR, "THE BULWARK": So that's the question is whether they will all stick together and really vote against the budget reconciliation bill, which would sink it. But look, they have a very good argument, which is that with Biden having been somewhat weakened by what's happened in Afghanistan over the last few weeks. Now more than ever, they really have a strong argument for let's have a win.

And politics is additive. If you have one win, it creates momentum for more. Unfortunately, Nancy Pelosi has made the decision that she is going to rope these two things together, and therefore endanger both bills.

TAPPER: And what do you make of the calculation by the progressives, that they can't just wait, that they want the commitment? I mean, are they just worried that the $3.5 trillion budget deal isn't going to ever come up for a vote? What is the concern there?

ASHLEY ALLISON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think the concern is that if you move the $1 trillion package that people will say that's a win, and some of the other pieces that they want to be a part of the reconciliation package won't get addressed. And so, they think they are being accountable to their base and ensuring that they deliver what so many voters showed up in 2024.

And I understand that time kills deals, but sometime when you separate policy, those -- that's how things die as well. And so they want to move it together to ensure that they get a comprehensive package that they said they would deliver for their voters in 2020.

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: But Democrats also have narrow majorities in both chambers. And so there's very little room for error. And it was, in fact, President Biden as well who embraced this dual-track system that we can move on this bipartisan infrastructure package at the same time that he and his party would try and advance his broader economic agenda. And there is a narrow window of time because it's only a matter of time before the politics of midterms really sink in. And it's more difficult to frankly, get any legislation passed.

And what's really at stake here is also much of President Biden's agenda because this bipartisan infrastructure compromise is really the only example he has of really having secured that Republican support that he said he was uniquely positioned to get when he was running for president, much of the rest of his agenda will absolutely rests solely on Democratic support. So there's a lot more at stake here than just this internal bickering. It's a real test for whether Democrats can overcome their internal divisions and get his agenda path (ph).

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, on to your point with the narrow majority, you heard Senator Sinema and Senator Manchin, two of the most influential Democrats on -- in the Senate come out and support the nine Democrats. Like, basically, telling them to hold firm and to get this deal done and to try to bring in the sides together. Now, Progressives are going to say, thanks, no, thanks. They are public enemies, one and two.

However, and you do have outside groups that are going after these Democrats. So, not only is there -- this family feud, it's out in public. So it makes Pelosi's job even harder. Because that's relationships that you're seeing tested within. And the further the more a lot of these people are attacked, the further they're going to dig in.

TAPPER: So one of the things that seems to be that the Progressives are worried about and why they want the $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation bill is they don't know that they can get Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin to vote for this budget package. In fact, they probably won't, right?

KUCINICH: It isn't pretty clear about not voting for that particular number. Not necessarily, even though itself.

SIDDIQUI: Yes. I think they think they have leverage now, because what they have that they can kind of hold close to them is this infrastructure compromise and say, well, you know, if you're not willing to sign on and support some of our key legislative priorities, and we're not going to support this infrastructure package, that Moderate Democrats --


SIDDIQUI: -- have come together with Republicans to support and they feel like that's, you know, the opportunity that's on their side. Now, they lose momentum if they support the infrastructure deal and face the real prospect that some of these Moderate Democrats say, thanks, but no thanks on this broader package that we don't think we can support.

TAPPER: But --

CHAREN: But if they were thinking about --


CHAREN: -- the 2022 elections, right, there's a good argument that don't frighten the horses. It should be their strategy, right? That they get the infrastructure bill win, that they have this bipartisan agreement which Joe Biden, you know, a couple of weeks ago, we were all talking about, wow, Joe Biden really achieved something wonderful with this and --

TAPPER: Right.

CHAREN: -- this is a new tone in Washington, they stand to lose all of that. And so, again, for 2022, what they need is, is to make sure that those Republicans who put them over in 2020, those Moderate Republicans who voted for Biden should feel that they are happy with their decision, and that there's -- there isn't going to be too much radicalism that the Biden administration is delivering so that they'll stay home and, and not vote Republican in 2022.

TAPPER: Ashley, let me ask you because President Biden's approval rating has taken a hit over the last month, his overall job approval fell from 58 percent to 50 percent. He got walloped among Independents falling from 55 percent approval in July to 46 percent now.


Some of that might be what's going on in Afghanistan and that could be ephemeral if, ultimately, the airlift succeeds and that all works out, but how concerned do you think the White House should be? And which do you see is the key to improve those numbers, the infrastructure bill, which might appeal to independence, or the budget reconciliation, which may maybe could boost support among Democrats?

ALLISON: I think it's clear that the reason why the Biden approval ratings have dropped so significantly is because what is happening in Afghanistan. And I think if Democrats are smart, they go to a strong domestic agenda. It is what voters turned out in 2022.

I mean, we can argue who actually delivered the election for Biden in 2020. I don't think a lot of Progressive thinks that was the Republicans but rather their base that showed up communities of color, low income people. Yes, Independents and Republicans vote it, but that is who they are going to need, their base in 2022.

And the one thing that I think is so interesting, is that Progressives get such a bad rap. Oh, they're radical. Oh, they -- you should be afraid of them. They are following in line with the Speaker and the President right now. And it is Moderates who were making the problem and they are not being demonized as being difficult or challenging. They're saying they're following their constituents. We're so are these Progressives and so is Nancy Pelosi, and I think she knows how to get it done.

KUCINICH: I think the differences when you -- with the Moderates are always in danger in a lot of ways, and they are what used to be called majority makers.

ALLISON: Exactly.


KUCINICH: And so they have -- they ever -- and where progressives tend to be, not always, from safer seats. So they have less loose not from a policy perspective, but from an electoral perspective, if they go -- if they decide to, you know, go a different way. And that's it.

I do wonder if it is more cumulative than just the Afghanistan as to why we're seeing the -- his approval ratings drop. And think about what's happening with COVID, think about what's happening in the economy. And one of the -- I think it was the NBC poll had a number that was about the COVID relief legislation and whether people thought it was helping the economy.

And there -- more people said it wasn't helping, 38 percent and then there were 27 percent, I believe, that had no opinion. That if I'm a House Democrat, I'm looking at that and wondering about the midterms, because that's something they've been campaigning on.

TAPPER: And also --

ALLISON: And you know those polls don't include their base normally. And so, we have seen --

KUCINICH: Polls are just the snap shot (ph).

ALLISON: Right, exactly. And we've seen when --


ALLISON: -- campaigns and candidates rely too heavily on the polling and data, it ends up biting them in the long run.

TAPPER: Thanks to all of you, appreciate it.

Remember when Texas Democrats fled their Lone Star State for a month to protest the voting rights bill, the election reform bill, well, now they're back in session. That's next.


TAPPER: In our national lead, House members in Texas are gearing up for a committee vote on sweeping changes to election law in that state. Some of those changes make it tougher to vote after in Texas Democrats tried for months to block that legislation entirely. Now, if enacted, the legislation would restrict mail-in voting, it would eliminate some early voting options, and it would empower partisan poll watchers.

CNN's Dianne Gallagher joins us now. Dianne, after months of negotiations and efforts to block this from passing including by fleeing the state, this is going to pass and it's going to be a huge blow for Democrats.

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And look, Democrats at this point continue to tell me, Jake, don't count them out just yet. They still have some tricks up their sleeves. And we might be watching some of that unfold actually, in real time as the Texas House is about almost an hour late to coming back from recess. They had to pause and they went into recess in this committee hearing on that election bill so all members could go to the floor. We've been waiting for about an hour for them to have enough members on the floor to gavel back in.

Now, again, they can only delay this for so long. Democrats were there at that committee hearing asking questions and attempting to talk about this bill. What was very apparent was that the Republicans had not made any real changes in the House from last time back in July when they had that original session until this time, and do not appear that they intend to at least not in the committee. Jake, once that vote is taken in the committee, it would then, of course, go to the House floor.

But again, Democrats tell me that they are not done fighting yet, even though they are very much in the minority, and don't really have anything to do beyond some of these delay tactics to keep this from passing. The math just isn't there for them. But I will say the will appears to still be there at this point.

TAPPER: And what happens after the committee vote?

GALLAGHER: So, just like any other bill, it'll go to the full House. Now, if they have a quorum there on the floor, it will likely pass along party lines. But I was a little bit of a new step that the House put in talking about during the committee hearing this morning, saying they wanted to substitute some of the language.

So that means it's going to have to go back to the Senate and to potentially end up in one of these conference committees. That's what tripped up the Republicans during the regular session in Texas, that allowed the Democrats to kind of go into the very, very end and walk out and deny quorum that first time.

Jake, the Democrats said that there's no such thing as, quote, perpetual quorum, which is likely a bit of for shouting on what we can expect over the next, well, less than two weeks left in this special session.

TAPPER: All right, Dianne Gallagher, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

The search for a "Jeopardy!" host is back on and we've just learned who will step in is the first guest host, that's next.



TAPPER: In our pop culture lead, we'll take the category TV game show turned into a soap opera for $1,000 please (ph). Actress Mayim Bialik will be the first guest host of the weekday edition of "Jeopardy!". Sources familiar with the matter tell CNN that Bialik will host the episodes that are taped this week. Bialik originally was tapped to host "Jeopardy's" primetime specials following the death of beloved "Jeopardy!" host Alex Trebek. The show's executive producer Mike Richards was named host of the daily show who dropped out last week after revelations of sexist and anti-Semitic remarks that he made on his now defunct podcast.

You can follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and the TikTok at JakeTapper. Our coverage continues now with one Mr. Wolf Blitzer right next door in "THE SITUATION ROOM." I'll see you tomorrow.